Thinking for yourself may be one of the hardest things in the world to do. It’s probably second only to acting on the basis of one’s own thinking when everybody else is doing the opposite.
If we didn’t know it before the pandemic, we certainly know it now: we are social creatures, hard-wired over tens of thousands of years to pay careful attention to what our peers are doing and how they are responding to us. We humans worry a lot about what the tribe thinks. Thousands of years ago this made sense: removal from the tribe meant almost certain death given the difficulty of fending for oneself for any sustained period of time. Worrying about our place in the tribe was a matter of survival.
Being shunned by the tribe is unlikely to result in death today. Yet we still pay close attention – consciously and subconsciously – to what our peers and tribes are doing and how they evaluate us. Tony Robbins talks about the 6 core human needs(1), one of which is connection with another individual or a group – essentially the need to belong to something.
So thinking for ourselves and acting independently run against our ingrained desire to be part of a tribe and avoid doing things that might impact our acceptance. To even consider questioning others in the group is to invite an avalanche of emotionally laden questions: What if I’m wrong? What will the others think? Will I lose my status with the group?
This very powerful human condition is well understood by society’s leaders. It can be used to elicit certain behavior. If everyone else is doing it then it must be OK. Why be different? We love the safety of the herd.
That conditioning often leads us to defer to leaders and experts even in the face of conflicting evidence, mindlessly outsourcing our thinking to others.
This is something I’ve worked on personally over the last five years. Perhaps wired to care about the group a bit more than most, I’ve trained myself to give more attention to what’s happening in my mind when in group settings. Thoughts of deferring to others still surface but I see those thoughts more clearly and can make a different choice if appropriate…hard as that may be.
A willingness to be different is critical at Bluestone. We evaluate new information from “elite” sources all the time. Maybe it’s a recommendation to a client from a professional at a “top tier” organization. Maybe it’s a real estate deal offered by a “proven” investment group.
We seek to blend a sense of opportunity and optimism with healthy paranoia and skepticism. We want to assess the data and form our own conclusions. And we need plenty of courage to act on those conclusions when we have conviction.
“It is impossible to produce superior performance unless you do something different.”(2)